Best Gator Teams of the Decade - Part III

Here is the third installment of the best Gator teams of the decade that just concluded. First, a reminder of the teams selected in parts one and two.

#15 2009 Men's Outdoor Track and Field
#14 2008 Women's Softball
#13 2001 Football
#12 2001 Women's Soccer
#11 2005 Baseball
#10 2002 Volleyball

Now we move on two part three and the teams we ranked No. 7-9. This group includes the first great team of this decade and the last, plus a team that we previously mentioned the second best of the decade in its sport.

# 9 2000 Men's Basketball ---- There was a great deal of anticipation heading into this season and with good reason. Florida returned four starters and three key reserves from a team that won 22 games and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The Gators were also bolstered by the addition of a freshman class that featured man-child Donnell Harvey along with Matt Bonner, Brett Nelson and Justin Hamilton. Florida shot out to an 11-1 start, but won just three of its first five SEC games. After a loss to DePaul things started to click and the Gators won nine of ten in the league to clinch at least a share of the SEC Title. The Gators lost their regular season finale at Kentucky and then lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Limiting somewhat expectations. Those lowered expectations were almost realized in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before Mike Miller's finger role let the Gators escape an upset threat from Butler. Florida followed with a win over former Gator coach Lon Kruger and Illinois to go to the Sweet 16. There the Gators dispatched traditional powers Duke and Oklahoma State to earn Florida's second trip to the Final Four. The Gators easily defeated North Carolina to reach the championship game but lost to a talented and veteran Michigan State team 89-76. Mike Miller led a balanced attack scoring 14.1 a game with three other Gators and double figures and three more averaging more than eight points a night. We can only wonder how the Gators might have done the following year had Miller and Harvey returned for their junior and sophomore seasons respectively.

#8 2003 Women's Volleyball ---- As good as the 2002 team was, this one was just a little bit better for Coach Mary Wise. Aury Cruz and Benavia Jenkins returned to give Florida two All-American performers while setter Lauren Moscovic. Sophomore outside hitter Jane Collymore and middle blocker Sherri Williams were improved performers. The season began the way the 2002 campaign ended with a loss to USC. Florida then beat Kansas State in four games. What was notable about that was when Florida lost game three it was the last game they would lose until the Final Four. Florida crushed every team it faced the rest of the way, shattering the NCAA record of 69 straight games by pushing the streak to 105. When Florida finally did lost again it was game three of the NCAA Semi-Finals against Hawaii. The Gators were able to finish off the Rainbows and split the first two games with USC in the final. However without Jenkins, who was injured shortly after mid-season the Gators had to settle for second place. It is still the only time Florida has reached the title match.

#7 2009 Football ---- No team in Gator history carried more pressure than this one, though much of it was self imposed. The Gators went into the 2009 campaign talking openly about winning it all, 14-0 and doing something the Gators had never done before. When your one and only goal is perfection you have trouble enjoying the ride. Still this team had a great year even if it was the most joyless 13-1 season in college football history. Florida opened the season dominating Charleston Southern and Troy but then stumbled around and failed to put away Tennessee, settling for a 23-13. That would become a familiar refrain for the rest of the season. The Gators next went to Lexington and played a perfect first quarter going up 31-0 but again stumbled around after that. The entire Gator Nation and football world was stunned in the third quarter when Tim Tebow was sacked and laid motionless on the ground for several minutes. Tebow got up but didn't return to the game having been diagnosed with a concussion. Tebow returned, but didn't look like his old self at first as the Gators narrowly survived games with LSU (13-3), Arkansas (23-20) and Mississippi State (29-29). Florida was impressive enough in wins over Georgia (41-17) and Florida State (37-10) to take a No. 1 ranking into the SEC Championship Game. Alabama was just too good on this day. Florida's offense returned to its red zone difficulties and the defense just wasn't the same without Carlos Dunlap and the 14-0 dream was dashed 32-13. Florida rebounded to destroy unbeaten Cincinnati 51-24 to earn the Gators a No. 3 ranking in the final polls. It's just the seventh time Florida has ended a season in the top three. Not bad for a disappointing campaign.

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